Tuesday, July 26

(G)MG: History - 12 Years & 600 Posts

The anniversary / birthday / whatever of (G)MG was this past week. This marks the 600th post and 12 years of writing.

I thought about sharing some of the memories / stories I have about (G)MG and my life alongside it. So this post is a (very) long, rambling story of my life and how it has interacted with (G)MG over the years.

I'm sure I'm missing a lot. But there is a lot here. I don't know that I've ever shared here about the story of why I started writing, then blogging, and then writing (G)MG in particular. A lot of this information I don't think I've ever shared here... and some of it, it's possible I've never shared with anyone.

Again, this is long. But I think it's worth knowing, if you've followed in the past.

I started writing during my mission - it was the only way I communicated with my family, and I wrote written letters home dutifully from the MTC, and then emails from the field. My very first week in Italy, I was robbed at gunpoint - a loaded gun shoved into my stomach as I was pushed up against a wall. After trying to tell the story to my family, find a meaningful uplifting moral, ask for help, etc through email, myldsmail.net (I think that was it?) ate my email because I had spent more than 30 minutes writing. So I spent 3 minutes and told them I had arrived safely, got robbed, needed help getting a new passport, and was safe. 

I kept writing letters each week, and getting one from my mom each week in return. Then my youngest brother was born while I was in my first area. That was the first week I got to the Internet cafe and there was nothing waiting for me. I remember feeling... alone. Forgotten. And something inside me told me that I needed to make sure that whatever I wrote, was interesting. And useful. And worth reading. Because, if it wasn't, no one would read it. No one would respond. No one would care.

The truthfulness of that belief wasn't really up for question. It colored every letter I sent for the rest of my mission, and "Dear Family and Friends" created my first audience or group of people I wrote to. I think that all writing has some type of audience - someone it was intended to be read by. Whether it's myself in the future, myself from the past, family or friends or strangers - each audience colors word choices and writing styles, explanations that are given or left out, stories that center or are sidelined or don't appear at all. Not that one is more real or authentic than another, but that by combining the pale understanding and hopes I have about whoever is reading with the text itself, I create something unique and different for each person that comes to mind.

I kept writing during my mission, and when I got home I kept writing, to family and friends, every week. I had enough people who asked to get it that the endless bcc's eventually caused gmail to label me as a spam artist.

Shortly after I got back from the mission, I went to a meeting at BYU run by the More Good Foundation. This was back when the world was first created and the Wikipedia articles on gospel topics were sometimes wholly written by a group of anti-Mormon antagonists. The More Good Foundation was a group of people that simply wanted to create more good content on the internet. More uplifting stuff. More testimonies of faith and hope. More positivity. They talked about lots of ways to do that, and mentioned blogging as an option, so I went through all my old mission emails, took out the personal information about specific companions or members, and then posted them on a brand new platform called blogspot or blogger. Then each week I added on my weekly email. I think. Something like that.

Fast forward to BYU graduation, and I began working at the Provo MTC, writing curriculum, helping to make movies, and publishing manuals for the development department there. It was a sweet job with me as I juggled projects among my direct manager, 4 other managers who... I'm not sure they had any employees since I was a volunteer working for free during a massive hiring freeze, the department head, and the administrative director of the MTC. I had tons to do and felt like I was making a difference.

Then one day I sent my current copy of the fundamentals - the huge curriculum project designed to teach missionaries how to use Preach My Gospel - (I'm pretty sure that's what it was called afterwards) in for my daily edit to my boss and she was like, "awesome!" and sent it to her boss and he said, "great!" and his boss was like, "sweet" and then it got sent to someone in the missionary department and it was suddenly done. And since the hiring freeze was over and we needed to test it and translate it in a million languages and roll it out as fast as missionarily possible, the department hired a dozen new employees and my quiet empty office suddenly had a lot of people.

And I went from having stuff to do every day, and being the center of every project, to being on call. I understand why it happened. But seeing all the newbies in the office getting to train full districts with the new program (something I really really wanted to do since I had never been able to be a teach at the MTC), or work on projects that came down the pipeline, or watching people travel for the second set of The District films while I sat at my desk and waited for "emergency or essential" projects because I had the most experience and the fastest turnaround... or looked up time stamps on an oracle database of like 10 million cells describing what felt like thousands of hours of camera footage I was somehow in charge of memorizing... made me feel... worthless. I had actually only been hired a few months prior because of the aforementioned hiring freeze, and I felt like I was wasting my own time, and God's money, sitting at my desk reading Preach My Gospel and the scriptures for what felt like most of most days.

I felt like maybe I could make a difference doing something else.

So the day I quit the MTC, I posted something online anonymously to the effect of "hey - if you're a gay member of the church who's trying to be faithful and you just want someone to talk to, message me and I'll message back."

The response was overwhelming. Emails flooded my inbox (that's where my (G)MG email address comes from - literally a friend to talk to), and I ended up signing up for 3 or 4 different online chat services, talking to people for over 80 hours the first week.

I realized as the week went on that a lot of the topics and questions people asked were similar. Sometimes, it was exactly the same. And I felt like maybe it would be a better use of my time to write an awesome answer and share it with a bunch of people, rather than the nuanced ones I was only sharing with people who asked.

And that was what started the idea for (G)MG. It was a place to store my answers to the questions people asked. The name was based on what they taught from the More Good Foundation. I don't think I had ever even said the word gay out loud in my life at that point. But gay, Mormon, and guy were the keywords I expected people to search. So it was the name of the blog. Gay in parenthesis because it's silent. Since I was both anonymous and had never said it aloud.

I got guidance from a friend - my boss's boss's boss at the MTC and member of my previous stake presidency - and told him I wanted to write an anonymous blog to make a difference. He gave me three pieces of advice. The first was to guard my anonymity if I wanted to be anonymous - because it would be easy to lose it if I wasn't careful. The second was to... what was it? I don't remember. Oh. Yeah. It was to never claim authority. Don't claim that I'm an expert on the subject, or claim that I have authority to interpret stuff from the Church, or that I have backing from general authorities or that I'm better than anyone else at all for any reason, because I'm not. The third was to not fall. Because the more visible you get to other people, and the more they rely on you or look to you, the more you could potentially hurt them by falling off the pedestal they place you on even when you try to make them not. So with that I started.

After writing posts that answered questions, (G)MG began to fill a different role in my writing. My audience was myself, as a late teenager - myself when I searched everywhere trying to make sense of my life. Wanting to know it was possible to be faithful. To be happy. To thrive somehow. Wanting a guidebook or manual on how to be gay and follow God and make it all work out in the end. And so I simultaneously wrote my weekly emails to family and friends (published on another blog... I think Romanmissionary.blogspot.com had at least my mission emails, if I didn't post the post-mission ones), and wrote on (G)MG to my past self and anyone who wanted a strand of hope.

(G)MG was met with some pretty big... resistance? I think that's a good word for it. There were gay Mormon bloggers when I started, but they all knew each other. It was a small world. And none of them knew me. Big surprise right? Autistic introverted kid who has no friends and knows nothing of social norms suddenly blasts into the gay Mormon blogger circuit. They were accepting and excited until my blog started getting weird traction outside the small gay Mormon world. More and more of my readers came from moms, or friends, or other people who just read just because, and my focus on trying to be as positive and meaningful in my writing (learned from wanting to write something worthwhile in my mission) meant that the comment submissions of my blog would sometimes explode with hate. I got endless hate mail. Threats. Awful comments that made me so glad I was moderating everything. But my target was myself as a kid, and as a kid, I had no interest in controversy. I wasn't looking for anti-Mormon thoughts or ideas. So (G)MG was never meant to be an open forum or a place to share those thoughts. And man did that push some buttons. At the height of it someone even copied my entire blog and posted it to a different address just so they could publish comments that didn't match with the goal of (G)MG.

At the same time, people started speculating about who I was. One of my posts went viral, shared on social media and posted on all sorts of other blogs. And suddenly a no-name anonymous blogger had way more hits and followers than was the norm for my small world... and no one in the old guard had ever spoken to me. The people I had met in person were almost all just as anonymous and quiet as I was. 

People started claiming that (G)MG wasn't real. That my optimism was faked. That no one could really be living my life and writing about it. Maybe I was actually a woman. Or a bishop. Or - my personal favorite that had a surprising amount of traction - a *group* of BYU professors. I may have had low self esteem, but learning that people felt my writing was good enough to be professor-worthy and prolific or extensive enough to require a group, made me laugh out loud more than once.

I eventually ended up meeting up in person with one of the other bloggers on campus at BYU so that he could write on his blog that I was real, and the rumors faded as (G)MG's popularity faded as well.

(G)MG became a pretty awesome blog as time went on. I had some pretty cool ideas, and enjoyed sharing them with people, getting responses, responding to emails, and connecting. I catalogued (G)MG and it grew.

Over the next few years, (G)MG also served as a cathartic outlet for my own personal thoughts. I was diagnosed with type 2 bipolar disorder and autism the summer before I started graduate school, and before then I cycled into suicidal depression almost every week. And, every time I hit depression, one of my coping strategies was writing on (G)MG. A whole lot of my posts were crazy depressing due to that fact. But hey. It makes sense in retrospect. I was suicidal, horrifically in pain, and felt so alone i it made me feel like I would drown. And the only thing I knew about myself was that I was gay. So I assumed that all gays constantly wanted to die and felt horrifically alone even when surrounded by loved ones, family, and friends. Hence why I'd feel compelled to both write and find meaning to share.

The autism made it impossible for me to realize that my experience wasn't universal. Even old comments that told me my experience was weird - that I was way too depressed for it to just be part of being gay - I wrote off because, well, *everyone* has good days and bad days. And on bad days, you want to kill yourself, right? That's just how it works.


At this point I was struggling to divide my life into life stories that I could share on (G)MG and stories to share with my weekly letter and my other blog. I knew that some people read both my weekly letters and my blog. Which scared me out of my wits. People knew that I blogged. I couldn't hide it when I sometimes spent 20 or 30 or 40 hours writing or responding to emails in a week. I tried to use different writing styles, but since the subject - my life - was the same, it was a stretch. So I tried to split the stories and thoughts. If I mentioned a story or life lesson in real life, or to one group, I couldn't mention it to the other. 

And eventually that wasn't enough. A girl I dated (I was still not out, and actively dating girls because I felt like I should - never outright lying to anyone, never being physical with girls, but trying to figure out dating in general) found (G)MG after we broke up. She was an English major, and took writing samples from my weekly letters, google searched blogs, and eventually found a blog post about the Princess and The Frog - a movie she knew I had recently watched - and the cat was out of the bag. 

She was pretty angry. The comment I remember was that she was angry that she had learned I had never been attracted to her, from reading my blog, and not from my mouth. But when I wasn't out, that wasn't really an option. Telling a girl that I'm not attracted to her is just a question waiting to be asked. ("Why are you dating me then?" "To see if it's possible to become attracted to you / to figure out what I want in a future mate / because the practice of dating can help me better interact with people - which all make it much easier to identify a gay guy when compared to the answers given by any hetero).

She felt inspired to stick around and "help" me for some reason, and her help was explaining that our dating relationship had been one of the most painful experiences she had ever had in her life, and listing off every issue I had brought to our relationship. Amazingly, in the wake of the extended conversation, where I mentioned autism from a book on tape someone had left in my car a few years prior, she found an article on how relationships are affected by high-functioning autism that matched her experience.

I went in for a diagnosis, and when I got diagnosed, the psychiatrist explained the mood spectrum, and, for the first time in my life, someone told me that having active suicidal tendencies wasn't normal. That the constant thoughts of suicide and pain and depression and angst weren't actually part of being gay. It was because I was bipolar. The loneliness and isolation and difficulty communicating and making friends was because I was autistic.

And I came to (G)MG and felt lost.

I felt like a liar.

All the comments where people had said that I was way too depressed, and way too alone, hit me hard. My posts on depression and loneliness felt hollow. Here I was, what some people expected to be the stereotypical gay Mormon guy, and the bulk of my messed up reality maybe wasn't even due to being gay.

And I couldn't tell anyone.

I mean, how many people get simultaneous diagnoses of autism and bipolar, and are open enough to share them with others? That news would destroy any trace of the anonymity I had held so closely. Everyone in my real life knew, but no one here did.

I stopped blogging for a little while there, because I struggled with the dichotomy of wanting to reach out and share my experience, yet not knowing what part of my experience was really due to being a gay member of the Church and what part was due to everything else. Everything was new to me. And, with the exception of not understanding sarcasm, I knew almost nothing of actual symptoms of autism to be able to interpret my interactions with others.

Then, the summer after the first year of my MBA, my little brother was diagnosed with leukemia.

And my life fell apart.

At some point Google had yet again marked me as a spammer and customer support suggested I start a Google Group and have people enroll in it to send out the email or they would permanently mark my personal email address as abusive. Between that and the stress of taking too many credits in grad school, working as both a TA and RA, writing (G)MG, functioning as the director of spiritual affairs for the MBA program, following a new vegan ketogenic diet I had miraculously found to try to fix my bipolar, driving to LDS Hospital to visit my little brother in chemo almost every day after school, and the I-15 Core project which made it take almost two hours to get home each night... the email that had been sent to hundreds of people every week for seven years disappeared.

The vegan ketogenic diet ended too since it was so hard to make it work, and with the rare food I ate the depression that had been staved away started to come back on top of everything else.

I remember breaking down after realizing I hadn't eaten in days and calling the relief society president and begging for someone to help us with food. I felt so... humiliated. Alone. Lost. Helpless. And that same night I got home at 1 or 2 am, opened the fridge expecting it to be empty, and found it full of Tupperware containers labeled with names. Mine full of salad, and a pitcher of soup. My little brother's best friends' wife had felt inspired, and she walked in the front door while I was gone and put everything away.

I slipped to the floor and cried.

A talk given in the October general conference that year was about being open and honest, especially online. Maybe from Quentin L Cook? His talk was primarily on not engaging in anonymous bad stuff, but it still hit home to me who still felt the pain of a split life. So, after some prayers, I decided to come out. 

I had told my parents only a few months prior. That experience is written here on (G)MG, probably called "I told them" or something like that, and got a spectrum of responses there. I decided I wanted to tell my immediate family, along with my aunts and uncles, before it got posted to Facebook. So one day, when my parents and all (but one, who decided not to show) of my adult siblings were visiting my brother in his hospital room while we played CatchPhrase, the game stopped on me and I told them. I brought up my blog on the hospital projector screen, explained what I had been spending so much of my free time on for the handful of years prior, and asked if they had any questions. The only one was, "Are we gonna play catchphrase?"

I came out here on (G)MG a little while later, and posted it to my personal Facebook as well as the MBA forum at school. The feeling after coming out is sort of weird. There's a definite euphoria that comes from simply being open with people when stuff was hidden for so long, along with perceived differences in relationships. I had classmates and professors and strangers come to talk to me and reciprocate with their own vulnerable stories - far, far more than I expected - and realized the truthfulness of President Uchtdorf's lesson to treat everyone as if they have hidden deep, painful, difficult, isolating experiences beneath their outer shells. 

At the same time, it also felt suddenly isolating. The classmates that were closest to me never talked to me about it, never asked questions. Why? I remember one response, overheard in passing during a conversation with someone else: "It's sorta cool that we can learn so much about David just by reading his blog."

They had a relationship with my blog. They read it, some for hours and hours. They talked with their family members and even printed pieces out to share with others.

But it wasn't with me.

I mean, that's one point of writing though, right? Making it so that I can spend a bunch of hours writing and others spend a bunch of hours reading. At one point google analytics claimed that the average visit to (G)MG was 14.6 minutes long, and as of today blogger shows almost 2 million visits. Which is 55 years of time that people have spent reading here, or at least that search spiders had the page open.

But I felt isolated from some of the people I saw each day because they knew pieces of me, but I didn't know how much. And so I ended up still dividing my life. And just usually not talking about being gay, unless someone asked, but still being out.

The next few years I would sometimes find people who had read my blog. A girl at munch and mingle who knew the dates and facts of my life better than I did myself, since autobiographical episodic memory dysfunction due to autism means I experience life, write about it, and promptly forget most of it within a few days. That made me laugh, and it was the first time someone told me they had read my entire blog that I actually believed them. Having binge-read stuff like omniscient reader and forgone sleep just to get to the next piece in the recent years means that I'm more willing to believe it now, but back then it was a definite shock. But each time it was sort of surreal to meet someone who had a relationship with (G)MG... but not with me.

Then came my dirt years. Not sure what to call them. My sin years? My years of blatantly trying to find meaning in all the wrong places? I spent 3 or 4 years writing almost nothing because I had broken the third suggestion I had gotten so many years ago. I had fallen. And, if I looked honestly at my younger self, I didn't want to read about that. I didn't want to read about a guy who had tried, really hard, to stay close to God, and then had messed up over and over and over and wasn't getting better. 

The combination of extreme isolation from autism, not dating women at all anymore because I couldn't figure out a valid reason to anymore, getting old enough to age out of my YSA ward and suddenly being one of a million forgotten, lonely, mid-single adults... and I lost myself. I felt abandoned. I had spent years building my old ward and suddenly it was gone. My new ward didn't have the feeling of my old one. I didn't know anyone. I was younger than everyone else, which, in my case spanning a generation gap, meant that in most cases we were in entirely different generations. I didn't go to ward council anymore, we didn't have ward prayer, FHE felt weird, my brother wasn't with me, and I felt alone in a group of 300 strangers that spanned a 20 minute driving radius - so far apart from each other compared to the rest of Utah wards that even trying to be friends would be hard. 

And in the mess I somehow had the horrific idea that I could sell my body to connect with someone. But each step took me further and further from what I really wanted. Being around people who wanted my body may have made me feel great about my body, but destroyed my sense of self-esteem about my intellect and morality. No one cared about what I thought. No one cared about my connection with God. No one cared about the real me. Even bringing up my real self was an instant go to jail that would end any potential contact without question.

I tried everything. If there is something you can try, short of actual marriage to a guy and adopting kids or finding a surrogate, I tried it. Falling in love, connecting, different types of relationships and actions and circumstances. 

And it all sucked.

Maybe it works for some people. There's a reason there are different kingdoms of glory - because each of us really does have different goals and hopes and things that we want in life. But I came to it with a memory of being close to God, and a memory of real/true/authentic happiness. And everything was just... meaningless. The closest I got was falling in love, but there's nothing wrong with falling in love. That's something I could bring back home with me. You can fall in love, and have someone that loves you back, without wanting sex. But I saw a whole lot of unhappy people. A whole lot of drugs and alcohol and depression and suicide and abusive behaviors, miscommunication and betrayal and jealousy and promiscuity and body share and prejudice and hurt. Far, far, far, far more than in my experience with the hetero community. I mean, I read a study that the average gay guy has *hundreds* of sexual partners in his life. Hundreds. And that is the average - which means that for each person that has 20, there are others with uncountable. The average hetero guy? I think it was 20. Which is still really high when you factor in all the monogamous relationships of soulmates. Either way so many issues. People who used each other to cope with their unspoken issues, ready to jettison at a moment. Others who were good people caught up in the flow that would inevitably hurt them and others. 

There were moments of happiness. Moments of meaning. Big enough to make it seem real, to make it seem worthwhile to try.

And, for some people, that's enough. That's the reality of life. Making a bad eternal decision, or even a hundred bad eternal decisions, doesn't immediately fill my life with sorrow. There are real moments of happiness and meaning available anywhere, even on pathways leading away from God.

But even those potentially positive moments all strung together weren't enough for me. Weren't worth losing my temple recommend and missing my best friend's endowment. And my sister's sealing. And my little brother's endowment. Weren't worth not feeling worthy to give a blessing to a family member who needed it, or to stand in a circle to give a baby blessing.

So I made the decision to change. To be a good kid again. To talk to my bishop, have a disciplinary council, work through my worthiness, and make a clean break from influences and places and connections with people who were often good people but weren't interested in helping me get closer to God. 

Which was harder and more painful than I thought it would be.

And I got a temple recommend, and my prayers felt closer to God, and made better lifelong goals that include love and hope and family and all the good things and none of the bad ones, and joined an addiction recovery group, and am working on therapy, and got a new calling in my ward, and found motivation to begin working out again, and got a new job... and began writing again.

And that's the history up to now.

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(G)MG is how I write to you. Commenting is one way to write to me.

If you want your comment published: No swearing, graphic content, name-calling of any kind, or outbound links to anything but official Church sites.

In addition, comments must be 100% relevant, funny, uplifting, helpful, friendly... well-written, concise, and true. Disparaging comments often don't meet those standards. Comments on (G)MG are personal notes to me, not part of a comment war. You are not entitled to have your ideas hosted on my personal blog. There are a zillion places for that, and only one (G)MG.

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